Tribute Archive

Reunion With a Hero

Posted August 24, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I wound through the hills and narrow curves until the familiar blue farm house came into view. Though it had been two years since I’d been here, it was almost as though I’d never left. Within moments, Willie Shelton opened the door with his distinctive smile welcoming me inside.

Well into his nineties, Mr. Shelton is a decorated World War II veteran. He was wounded in battle three times. Yet, today he is a mild mannered man who just farms his land and refuses to wear his medals of a distant war on his chest as he just goes on living life.

I met Willie while on the Road to Freedom Bicycle Tour 2013. He’d opened his home to me—a total stranger—and fed me with vegetables right out of his garden. He is humble but there is an unmistakable inner strength that guided him through Europe as an Army infantryman during the height of the big war.

I sat glued to Mr. Shelton on Saturday as he told how he and one other soldier captured fifteen German soldiers and while escorting them to a prison camp, they captured more and more soldiers. By the time the two soldiers reached the prison camp, they had compelled over seventy Germans to lay down their guns and march to the American POW camp.

When he was shot, Mr. Shelton survived by playing dead when the Germans came through, even when they poked him with bayonets to make sure he was lifeless. Once he survived attack by diving into a pile of manure.

As with most World War II veterans I’ve met, Mr. Shelton was not boastful about his experience. He just went. And he fought. Then he came home and lived his life to his fullest in the hills of Tennessee. He received a purple heart and two clusters for his wounds. Though he never ascended above the rank of Private First Class, he did the work of many while on the battlefield in France, Germany, Africa, Italy and Austria.

As I tried desperately to understand what it was like for him to be on another continent fighting for freedom, I also wondered what type of country I’d live in today if it hadn’t been for Willie Shelton. He willingly fought for my freedom over a decade before I was born. I don’t live in tyranny. I am not abused or mistreated, all because a quiet man from Tennessee and thousands just like him went across the ocean, took up arms and defended the most precious gift America as given me—freedom!

It’s not free. Mr. Shelton paid a handsome wage to secure my freedom. He has the scars to prove it. I am honored to know such a man. Today he lives his life in peace in the gentle rolling hills of Tennessee. I know there is nothing I can do to repay him for what he’s done for me. Even if I could, he would never allow it. That’s who he is. He is a patriot. A soldier. A hero.

Thank you Willie Shelton for allowing me to spend time with you once again. Thank you for your sacrifice so I can live in the greatest nation on earth. Because of you, the Heartbeat of America remains alive and well! 

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Salute Our Veterans

Posted November 11, 2013 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Yesterday after church, I could not help but walk out in into the colors of autumn. Brilliant hues shown vibrant against a cobalt blue sky. The warm rays of a brilliant sun mixed with the nip in the air. It was a perfect fall day.


I meandered for hours though mounds of leaves, strolled down empty sidewalks of a sleepy town before making my way to the Veteran’s Memorial on Main Street. I waded through over 4,000 American flags neatly placed in rows on each side of the sidewalk. They blew in the autumn breeze honoring those who sacrificed their own hopes and dreams to fight battles to give me the freedom to enjoy a Sunday afternoon. 


Folks were already gathered for the Memorial Service that would soon be starting. I sat on the bleachers among elderly marines, soldiers, sailors, pilots and listened as they swapped stories of wars gone by.


Though they were all from different branches of the service, they shared a common bond that I knew I would never experience with them.

I could only look on with gratitude.

Seven color guards from the local police force, the Boy Scouts and army marched in and took their places at their respective flag poles. We stood as Old Glory was raised and our National Anthem was sang. 


Retired US Air Force Brigidere General Tedd Bishop shuffled to the microphone. His gait was unsteady but his voice was sure. No doubt from years of authority. He led us across battlefields in every part of the world. Heroes were remembered. Yes, in every war, we’ve kept score. 


General Bishop honored those who sat among us and choked when remembering those who fell by his side, paying the ultimate sacrifice. It was clear they were gone, but they would never be forgotten.

After the benediction and TAPS, I walked back into a rich autumn day. My heart was filled with gratitude as tears flowed down my face.  I thanked God that I live in the greatest country in the world. Every freedom I enjoy–and yes, take for granted–was purchased by the brave men and women who unselfishly take up arms against anyone who would threaten our nation.


Veterans, I salute you. I honor you. I thank you for keeping me safe. May God richly bless you and keep you on your special day… and always! 


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Tribute to the Godmother of Cyclo-Touring

Posted October 18, 2013 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Dakota, Bob (my new trailer) and I set out on a shake down ride of sorts today. I met BiknJeanne Hargrave for one final ride before I set off again for parts unknown on the Road to Freedom Tour.

Dakota and Bob

Dakota and Bob

We reminesced about our tours together. She is responsible to getting me into touring in the first place. After two nasty crashes three weeks apart while riding a ill-fitted road bike, Jeanne suggested I try touring. She really thought I’d like it. She even offered to loan me gear to go on a tour.

We drove to Indiana and spend a week riding around the hills, camping and seeing the country the best way possible: on the back of a bicycle. When I loaded the panniers she loaned me for the trip, put the on the bike and started out, I only had one thing to say: I was born for this!

Jeanne taught me everything I know about touring. I watched and listened. I asked a ton of questions. I’m sure she got tired of answering them but she never let on. I am riding the Road to Freedom Tour today because Jeanne took the time and energy to introduce me to cyclo-touring. 

BiknJeanne and me putting Dakota back together after shipping.

BiknJeanne and me putting Dakota back together after shipping.

My custom-built Waterford touring bicycle was Jeanne’s recommendation. As I click off mile after mile, not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for her wisdom. I comfortably ride every day on a bike that’s made precisely to my body geometry. It’s amazing.

Yesterday we stopped at Grumpy’s for lunch and talked of plans to continue our rides. And of course, I asked her a ton more questions. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass. 

The Godmother-BiknJeanne Hargrave and me

The Godmother-BiknJeanne Hargrave and me

There are times in a person’s life when in just being themselves, they change the world. Jeanne, or the Godmother of cyclo-touring as I like to call her, did just that. I shutter to think what my world would be like without her. The Bicycle Lady would not have appeared on Kayleedean’s front porch in the middle of an Illinois corn field. Seven year old Hazel in Tennessee would still think God was mad at her. 

As I pedal mile after mile, it is riding on the back of a tandem with Jeanne pulling the weight. If I reach more women and set them free from the fear that binds them, it is because the Godmother gave me the keys. 

The Godmother of Cyclo-Touring, Jeanne Hargrave (Sorry for stealing your photo from Facebook)

The Godmother of Cyclo-Touring, Jeanne Hargrave (Sorry for stealing your photo from Facebook)

Godspeed on your journey, BiknJeanne. May you always have the wind at your back and open road up ahead. May you always have blue skies and someone with a great stove to cook your dinner in camp after a ride with a breathtaking view. 

Thank you for making Road to Freedom Tour possible. 


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Keep Dancing, Dear Helga

Posted October 5, 2013 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Many of you will remember I met the most incredible woman as I passed through Henderson, Kentucky. Helga Gish came over on a boat from Germany as a war bride after World War II. I had the privilege of spending some time with her. I marveled at her stories and tried to imagine living life dancing in her shoes.

Helga Gish and me... new buds

Helga Gish and me… new buds

I injured my knee while riding from Illinois back to Henderson to connect with some courageous women. While there, I was able to sit with Helga again while she told me more stories of the homeland. The very next day, she was admitted to the hospital with complications of diabetes. 

Helga ultimately had two toes amputated and remained hospitalized or in rehab until this week. At her request, she was brought home to be in her own bed and with family as she said goodbye to life on this Earth and greeted eternity. Wednesday, dear Helga slipped the surly bonds of earth and touched the face of God.

Helga loved to dance. Her eyes twinkled as she reminisced about going to the officer’s club in Germany and dancing with the American soldiers. She could hardly wait to feel her feet move beneath her in rhythm to a Polka. There was none of the sensual dancing in today’s world, but rather a very respectful and orderly waltz. Cultured. Proper. Totally Helga.

Henderson, Kentucky, where Helga spent the last years of her life.

Henderson, Kentucky, where Helga spent the last years of her life.

I can’t see Heaven as I write this but I know her legs are moving to the praise music the Heavenly Angels are singing. No pain or blindness. She clearly sees her Lord and I bet her feet-that now have 10 toes again-haven’t stopped moving since her Eternal dance card was punched.

Some may think that Helga just danced her last dance but they would be so wrong. She’ll never stop dancing now. 

She lived her life by a simple rule: When she was given the choice to sit it our or dance, she danced! And that was her wish for others as well. Her mere presence encouraged others to dance. 

When I visited her in the hospital, I told her I needed to bust her out and we’d head across the river to the river boat to dance. She’d have to teach me the Polka. She said she’d taught many women to dance the Polka, but didn’t say she would teach me. She must have seen me try to dance before and know I’m hopelessly doomed to a life without rhythm.

Keep Dancing, Dear Helga!

Keep Dancing, Dear Helga!

Helga will be missed here on Earth but on the other side, they’ve been waiting for her to come and dance. To have her join them around the throne as they sing praises and dance the Heavenly dance. 

Keep dancing, dear Helga, until we greet you again. Thank you for teaching us how to dance in life, even if our feet don’t leave the floor.

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In Honor of Boston: Winning Life From Last Place

Posted April 23, 2013 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Girl Crossing the Finish LineThe New York City Marathon is arguably the second all-time greatest marathons in the world. All the fastest runners compete for the gold medal. Everyone who crosses the finish line gets a finisher’s medal. After all, anyone who can keep putting one foot in front of the other for 26.2 consecutive miles deserves one!

Even the slowest runners/walkers make the trek in six hours or less. Except for New York. That marathon holds the world’s record for the longest time ever: over 33 hours. What’s more, the same person has come in last place in the last 23 NYC marathons. Zoe Koplowitz has crossed the line after everyone else for the last two and a half decades.

Think about it. She has viewed her running life from last place. As a runner, I’d be devastated. But not Zoe. She is determined. Dedicated. Daring. You see, Zoe faces every marathon with Multiple Sclerosis and has to have crutches to get around. Since 1987, every November she steps across the start line early on a Sunday morning, signaling the start of her individual race. Sometime the next day, Zoe crosses the finish line to the applause of those who waited for her to cheer her on to victory.

She doesn’t know what it feels like to break the tape with the fastest time. Nor does she get the encouragement of the other “runners”.little girl on road They left her in the dust. No, Zoe pushes herself with an intestinal fortitude that propels her to put one crutch in front of foot, then the other crutch and foot for thirty three hours.

Sometimes I feel like Zoe. Perhaps you do, too. You clearly recognize the view from last place. It seems EVERYONE is ahead of you. But, just like Zoe, you take whatever life has dished out to you, use whatever crutches you have, and slowly put one foot in front of the other. It may take you a lot longer to make it across the finish line but so what?!

Only one person gets the winner’s medal. Everyone who finishes the marathon gets a finisher’s medal. It’s not about coming in first. It’s about finishing the race. The view from last place is amazing when you are running the greatest marathon. So slow down, enjoy the scenery and keep moving forward!

HEADER PICTURE largeThis week, why not ponder these questions regarding what you’d like to do with the rest of your life. I would recommend you start a life plan journal. Think on these things:

      1)   What would I really like to spend the second half of my life doing?

      2)   Where am I right now in relation to that goal?

      3)   What do I need to do in order to get there?

 Finally, ask yourself this:

      4)   Am I willing to do what it takes to live my dream? If not, why not?

Share your plan here in the comments section. I’d love to hear your plan.

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Miracle Under the Friday Night Lights

Posted September 27, 2012 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

It was halftime in Kansas City, MO and the homecoming game of the Park Hill South Panthers. Young men and women stood waiting to hear who would receive the crown and title of homecoming king and queen.

The crowd erupted in cheers as the enviable tiara was placed on Allysa Brubeck. The nineteen year old varsity cheerleader sasheyed across the gridiron in a purple gown in honor of her school colors and took her rightful place next to the king. He was in his football uniform.

Allysa is very popular at her high school. In fact, so much so, her fellow classmates nominated her for queen and voted for her to win. To know her is to love her. She is well respected among her peers.

Courtesy of the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City

Sounds like every other high school homecoming queen doesn’t it? Well that wouldn’t make much of a blog post would it?! What happened in Kansas City under the Friday Night Lights was a miracle. You see, Allysa suffers from Down Syndrome. She is the only person with the disorder in the history of the school to every have been chosen as homecoming queen.

Allysa previously earned a spot on the varsity cheerleading squad, another first. She is bursting with enthusiasm and is bigger than life. I’m amazed at her but I’m also amazed at her classmates. What they did was miraculous and we should all follow the lead of these high school students:

They chose to celebrate the good in someone rather than shortcomings. Allysa is different but she is full of wonderful attributes.

They looked beyond the differences and connected with the inner beauty of another. They love her for who she is.

They ventured out of their own circle of friends to embrace someone not like them.

Truly a miracle occurred under the Friday Night Lights. Thank you, Panthers, for being the model of how we should see our world. Thank You Allysa for being the beautiful person you are and for your willingness to accept the crown so richly deserved.

May we all strive to be more like these kids who will one day lead us. You already make us proud. Would you like to get involved in the miracle? Contact the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City.

Have you seen or heard about a miracle like this? Please share it. 

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Tribute to the American Spirit

Posted July 4, 2012 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Courtesy of Chuck Felix

It began with a desire to be free. To pursue life, liberty and happiness. All over what would one day become America, men and women reached deep and made the decision to live free or die fighting for it.

They made their intentions known as they declared their independence. Thousands of men went into battle, facing the redcoats of the British army. They stood in line to be gunned down by powder and ball. And yet, something deep within them gave them the courage to face that death. The desire for freedom.

The rest, as they say, is history. America is free. The stars and stripes fly proudly over our nation as proof that Americans will live free. That commitment has been challenged throughout history. From within during the Civil War. On foreign soil with the World Wars. And most recently, in our own backyard.

Through it all, the heartbeat of American remains strong and freedom rings. America is alive and well.  Americans have overcome the most challenging obstacles and freedom still reigns.

Thank you to every soldier who kept vigil, fought valiantly and paid the ultimate price to purchase our freedom. We hold you in our hearts today as we celebrate our freedom on personal ways. We will never forget you and your sacrifice. We honor you today.

God bless America! God bless Americans. God bless the day we celebrate our declaration of independence. Enjoy your freedom!

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Tribute to Thomas Kinkade

Posted April 7, 2012 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Today the nation awoke to the news that Thomas Kinkade had passed away. The artist who so captured the essence of light and life has left our world. Like many of you, I feel a deep sense of loss that there will never be another portrait painted by the Painter of Light. 

Though he will no longer place a brush to canvas, his work will continue to illuminate our homes for generations to come. His light still shines brightly and he continues to minister to our hearts even though he has crossed over into eternity.

Since we are the same age, I had to ask myself what light would continue to shine if I were suddenly taken from this earth. What have I accomplished that would bless others, encourage them and change their lives? Clearly, I have work to do.

Thank you Thomas for bringing light into our lives and for staying true to your calling. Though the torch is being passed, your flame will continue to burn brightly, lighting the path for us to follow. Knowing you bravely followed your heart gives me the courage to pursue my dream.

Rest in Peace, Thomas. You will be missed.


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